Contemporary World Cinema | 2017 | 104 minutes
Stranger Says: Rashomon, in which multiple people describe the same violent crime, has become the archetypal simile for people trying to describe the problems of subjective perception in establishing truth. This Russian film adapts the same short story that inspired Kurosawa’s classic, “In a Grove” by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, but to a very different end. The variations in the retelling of the murder story become the keys to discerning the different characters’ selves and souls. The relativity of truth and the elasticity of time (especially in pre-Soviet Russia) are understood. It’s everything else that tells the real story. I have no idea if or how this connects to the nature of “the Russians” as we conspicuously fail to understand them today, but I do know the black-and-white cinematography is jaw-droppingly gorgeous and relentlessly allusive (Chekhov, Ophuls, Tarkovsky, and Kurosawa are in the mix), which makes the world feel both bigger and smaller, which is one of cinema’s best tricks.
SIFF Says:Enter into a shimmering black and white fairytale world of riches in the palace of the Czar of Russia. There, a lady-in-waiting tells a metaphysical fairytale, set in the medieval 13th century and revolving around the mysterious murder of the Tsar’s son and the disappearance of the princess. But the lady-in-waiting is only one narrator, as the fable’s characters are witnesses to the crime and narrate different versions of the events. THE BOTTOMLESS BAG is the Russian version of Akira Kurosawa’s RASHOMON (1950) and is based on Ryūnosuke Akutagawa's short story, “In a Grove.” Instead of Japan, director Rustam Khamdamov sets his story of doubt in Russia in a world of forests, soldiers, thieves, and royalty. With Khamdamov, the plot is less important than the visual environment, which is meticulously full of rich fabrics, costumes, and lush landscapes—the palace scenes are shot on location in an abandoned palace on the banks of St. Petersburg’s Neva River. Winner of the Silver St. George Prize and the Russian Film Critics Award at the 2017 Moscow International Film Festival, THE BOTTOMLESS BAG revels in a sumptuous quality that returns us to the aesthetics of the silent film era.
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